Marijuana farmer Mike Nee saved a strain of pot called Chemdog. Today, he grows crops in Ruskin and lives in Osprey, as his employer, One Plant, hopes to dominate the Florida market.
Mike Nee’s long and unlikely path to the American dream began one spring weekend in Connecticut when, at age 15, he and a buddy decided to grow marijuana in the woods outside their high school.
None too inconspicuous, they trudged across the soccer field, wheelbarrow and shovels in tow, and made frequent inspections to monitor the progress of their four plants. By October, the things were flourishing, more than six feet tall, maybe seven, and harvest-ready.
Knowing they needed to dry the plants out, but having no clue how to do it, Nee and his pal cut down their stalks, stuffed them into Hefty garbage bags, and hid them behind a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop. When they returned the next day, the bags were missing. Lesson number one.
Thirty-five years and some 250 Grateful Dead concerts later, after hauling uncounted loads of contraband from coast to coast and keeping a sharp eye on the speedometer, Mike Nee, aka P-Bud, curator of a quasi-mythic strain of marijuana called Chemdog, is completely legit today.
Along with two fellow Colorado cannabis farmers, an industrial-strength grow operation in Ruskin, and the deep pockets of entrepreneur Brady Cobb, Nee is on the ground floor of an enterprise aiming to dominate Florida’s medical-marijuana retail market.
“What’s the most important thing for a chef? An essential ingredient,” says Cobb, a Fort Lauderdale attorney and head of an outfit near Tampa called One Plant, which harvests marijuana at 3 Boys Farm, a former vegetable producer. “What’s the important thing for a cannabis operator? An essential ingredient like flower. And we’ve got the strain that changed the game.
“Between Chemdog and the fact that I’ve got the best growers in the state — they’re pioneers, actually — we’ll be putting out the best product in Florida.”
Changing the game
While that remains to be seen, Cobb’s assessment is lifted directly from a 2016 High Times magazine essay called “25 Years of Chem Dog,” which explored “the origins of the strain that changed the game” in terms of popularity and market saturation.
Cannabis industry website leafly.com saluted Chemdog’s “mysterious origin, ambiguous genetics, and the plethora of successful crosses the strain has produced,” and said the flower “has practically secured itself a permanent place in the cannabis hall of fame.” Leafly calls Chemdog the progenitor of “powerhouse strains” like Sour Diesel and OG Kush, and tells consumers to expect “a cerebral experience, coupled with a strong heavy-bodied feeling.”
Mike Nee has spent most of his legal professional life in golf course management, where he would also use adjacent tracts of wilderness off the greens to grow marijuana on the side. But he never dreamed the variety of a plant he once sold out of his car would have such an enduring impact.
“I would say 85 percent of the modern marijuana out there today probably has some form of Chemdog in one form or another,” says Nee. “And it wasn’t anything we did, really. We just got lucky. We found a great strain and preserved it.”
As a teenager, Nee was never all that crazy about alcohol, especially not the hangovers. He had what he describes as “anxiety” issues, which he says marijuana helped relieve.
He graduated into the itinerant Deadhead scene and followed the band on the road. “The Grateful Dead was Facebook before there was Facebook,” says Nee, three decades later sporting a black Jerry Garcia T-shirt featuring Jerry Garcia playing guitar. He cops to tripping on LSD at a handful of gigs, but psychedelia made him paranoid. The cannabis buzz was always a more relaxing fit.
Then along came Chemdog.
“It blew our minds — we had never seen anything like this in our life,” Nee recalls. “The smell of it alone would almost make your eyes water. It was so fuely, with this chemical smell, and we’re like, oh my God!”
The discovery and a lost male
It was the summer of 1991. Nee was living in Crested Butte, Colorado, and gearing up for another Dead tour.
His underground handle was P-Bud, taking the name from a potent strain grown in nearby Paonia County. That’s where northern California hippies and freaks resettled after the law turned up the heat in Humboldt County in the 1970s.
“Great elevation for growing, like, 4,500 feet, real cool nights, hot days, one of the best outdoor grows I’ve ever seen. Plants love it,” Nee recalls. “P-Bud got really famous because they grew it in the full sun, whereas in California they had to hide it in the shade. It was beautiful, lime green, and I’m not kidding,” he adds, spreading his hands two feet apart, “buds this big.”
A stranger passing through from Oregon showed off some stuff he called Dogbud because it was said to make consumers want to roll over like a dog. Nee and a buddy were sold and scraped together maybe $4,000 for a pound and a half.
Their first concert stop was in Noblesville, Indiana. When they set up shop at the informal Deadhead vending area called Shakedown Street, the marijuana became a sensation. “Next thing we know, we’ve got a line of 25, 30 people waiting to buy, and we’re charging $70 an eighth.”
One of his customers, a fellow traveler from Massachusetts named Greg, purchased a couple of eighths. Nee eventually sent two ounces of Dogbud to Greg’s home back east. After sifting through his buy, Greg made a surprising discovery. What had been passed off as sensimilla — unfertilized female plants groomed for higher potency — suddenly got a lot more complicated.
“He found 13 seeds,” Nee says. “It may have been a branch off one of the plants that got pollinated with something and ended up in the bag, we really don’t know.”
Greg planted four of those Dogbud seeds indoors in 1991. Of the three that produced, one was — gasp — male. But Greg only wanted females, and he got rid of it.
“Ah! I wanted to kill him for doing that, but he was only 17 and he didn’t know,” says Nee. “That male? You could’ve bred that male with anything, and anything it touched would’ve been incredible. But that’s all moot now.”
A move to Florida
Greg renamed the two survivors Chemdog, fusing Dogbud to its chemical scent.
He kept the rest in deep freeze until 2000, when he tried growing three more plants labeled C, D and E. Only D germinated — “I think it best represents the original Dogbud,” Nee says — and is now known as ChemD. Greg sent Nee some seeds, one of which he turned into a successful strain that Nee calls Chem4.
So what is the origin story of Dogbud? Nee says he and Greg have scoured the nooks and crannies of the internet and come up empty. The strain never resurfaced. At his new job at One Plant, he says consumers will soon be able to decide for themselves what the Chemdog fuss is all about. The vast majority of cannabis advertised as Chemdog, he says, is bogus.
“And if you see something spelled Chem d-a-w-g, that’s totally wrong, it’s definitely not ours,” he says. “The real Chemdog is grown nowhere else.”
One Plant is approved to produce some 350 pounds of dried flower per month, and another facility in Indiantown, on the east coast near Lake Okeechobee, will complement the organic farm in Ruskin. Cobb’s operation, which specializes in home delivery, eventually plans to open 20 dispensaries across Florida.
Given the market opportunities — 13 active authorized grow licenses in Florida, compared with 289 licensed producers in Colorado — an offer for Nee to relocate to Florida was a no-brainer. He has thus rejoined colleagues Chris Keller and Trent Houston, veteran pot farmers who worked together at a dispensary in Denver.
When he shared his story with High Times three years ago, Nee was still going by his P-Bud alias. Greg, he says, is still reluctant to have his full name used. Nee says it’s “liberating” to step out of the shadows of what was once a famously risky business. Perhaps surprisingly, given the miles and the load, he got caught only once, in Utah, and spent a day in jail.
“For years, I was looked down upon as ‘the pothead.’ Now,” Nee says, “people are starting to treat me with respect for what I know, whereas before I was the bad guy.”
He moved his family to Osprey in January. One thing could make life better.
“They need to get marijuana off Schedule 1,” says the man who helped save Chemdog. “That can’t happen soon enough.”
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.